Purposeful growth has long been a part of our vision at Mississippi Market. We want to keep meeting the needs of our member-owners and touch the lives of more people by growing our co-op.
In January we asked members to share concerns about growth at a series of member-owner focus groups. In April the Board and I worked to articulate a vision for growth, built on the foundation of our mission – a growth philosophy that can guide us as we navigate towards our future. A variety of information will be mulled over, including that gathered from the focus groups.
At the focus groups we asked members to share their concerns about growth, to consider what advantages growth could bring us, and to share what aspects of the co-op they want to make sure we don’t lose sight of as we grow.
A top concern is that we might stretch our financial and human resources too thin. Another is that the pace of growth might be too fast. There was also recognition that if we open a third store it may be challenging to manage the tension of the need for consistency with the need for local autonomy to meet the unique needs of the community. One area of concern, specific to the discussions about a store on the East Side of St. Paul, was whether the demographics of that neighborhood could support a natural foods co-op.
These are all valid concerns, and ones that management and the board also think about. We need to grow thoughtfully, and not at the expense of our values, our service, or our staff.
Members also clearly recognize that we offer valuable products and services to the community, and that the co-op business model can be a powerful influence. Potential benefits of expansion, assuming concerns were addressed included:
~ More opportunities to educate the community about healthful sustainable food options
~ More access to healthful foods in underserved areas and potentially more product choices for current members
~ More positive economic and social influence in the community, including developing new good jobs and more support for local farmers
~ Increasing membership and spreading the influence of the co-op’s values and the co-operative model
~ Greater financial strength through diversity.
And of course, there are important aspects about the co-op that should not be lost in efforts to grow. These include:
~ Knowledgeable, friendly, staff
~ High quality products and sustainably raised food from local growers
~ Community base
~ Good wages and benefits for staff
~ Commitment to sustainability, education, and the cooperative model
~ A pleasant shopping experience; the friendly, local, personal feeling of our stores
~ Financial sustainability
While the member-owner focus groups allowed us only to hear from a small slice of our membership—we do value what we learned, especially as we evaluate the opportunity to participate in development of a store on East 7th Street.
We want to grow thoughtfully while preserving the financial stability and the heart and soul of our co-op. We want to be positioned for the future and we want to ensure we are meeting our present needs. Paying attention to sustaining and improving our current locations for our current member-owners while we grow is critical. Growth stretches and challenges us, and I believe, it can help us become better at what we do.
(Gail Graham’s general manager report, April-May 2013 newsletter)